Part II: The Rise and Fall of Italy, its City-States and eventual Loss of Centrality of the Mediterranean Chapter 6: Wasted Italy of the high Middle Ages, and the beginning of its rebirth


6.1 Italy and the former Western Empire turned into a wasteland in the 7th century

Italy in the seventh century was only a pale memory of its former glory. The countryside was ravaged by troops moving up and down the peninsula. The north and center of Italy especially saw an almost total annihilation of the former Roman order and its social and legal system. In the south, where the Eastern Empire kept control, the situation was possibly better. Many of the common people in the south continued to speak Greek (they also had been former Greek colonies) and thus felt closer to Constantinople than the rest of Italy, which spoke Latin.

The invading German tribes[1] occupied the large estates of the former Roman patricians and in some cases the old aristocracy mixed with the new conquerors. About two-thirds of the former Roman large estates were captured by the new invading tribes. The old slavery structure, also under the pressure from the new Christian faith advocating equality between men, was disbanded but a new system of serfdom started. Germanic invaders also brought a new sense of equality: any freeman could join the battle and move up in the hierarchy according to his valor and success in battle.

But Christian egalitarian beliefs and German tribal customs also adapted to the production requirements of the Roman agricultural estates. Invaders mixed with the aristocracy but also with the farmers and former slaves, and the old system of the villas in the countryside became the new basis for survival and wealth away from the large cities, an easy target for invaders. Germanic tribes started to modify to new circumstances and adopted a system of “curtes,” where the local farming population was loyal to local masters of an estate. This loyalty, proper to the German tribes, was personal and irrespective of traditional social norms. This also gave way to greater power of masters over the people of his curtes without taking into consideration the old legal system shaped by centuries of Roman tradition and further ignoring Justinian’s new legal code.

It was also the time when feudal organization came to shape society[2]. Universal norms, valid throughout the empire during imperial times and stressed with the Justinian codes, gave way to a complex system of personal allegiance to a hierarchy of chiefs and at the bottom there were peasants increasingly linked to the land they farmed and the master who owned the land and the people living on it. The system came to be more rigid in the rest of Europe, where new kingdoms were taking shape with growing absolute power locally and without major interference from the political and cultural center of the Byzantine Empire.

This was less so in Italy where three powers had to share supremacy: the invading “Barbarian” kings (as we shall see, the Lombard, then the Franks, and then the Germans of the Holy Empire), the residual Byzantine force, and the growing universal political power of the pope in Rome. In this complex system, single centers, towns, and even individuals had more leeway than in northern Europe. Here the sprawling bureaucracy born in the empire after Diocletian was replaced by a system with a pyramid of personal fealty to masters who ultimately were loyal to the king. The weakness of the system was just this personal relationship, that could be shaken at each change of king and vassal, as personal ties are difficult to inherit.

This weakness came to be at least partly compensated for by the intervention of the church, which gave a shroud of religious holiness to the new kings and the whole system of personal allegiance. The king was such not just because he had conquered by force but because the church said this is what God wanted, and thus other people had to accept the will of God. In these conditions, with loyalty secured by personal ties and the religious blessings, the feudal system could be quite simple and nimble, and this is certainly one of the reasons why it lasted for centuries, especially if compared to the growing complicated bureaucracy of the Byzantine Empire, which was taking a very different course.

In the feudal system, the role of the church was fundamental because it was the ultimate guarantor of power, and although in the beginning it was not involved in the actual exercise of power, priests, bishops, and the sprawling constellation of abbeys provided the culture and the cultured people who could effectively manage the administration of the estates and the fiefs. The new post-Roman chieftains often made a cultural point of training for war and not in the classics or the administration. It was a slow process of integrating the Church of Rome, left without political protection, and the new kingdoms, whose looting and plunders had almost completely eradicated the former Roman administration.

In Italy this process started in a very serious way with the Lombard invasion that pushed back the Byzantines from most of northern and central Italy.

6.2 Lombard control of Italy versus Byzantine

With the Lombard invasion of Italy in the late sixth century and their consolidation of power a century later, Italy came to be definitively split into three areas after about eight centuries of unity within the Roman Empire. The three-part split was to last for about 12 centuries until the unification of the peninsula the late 19th century. In some respects, the split observed a pre-Roman division that the empire also for centuries roughly recognized. The south was dominated by the Greek culture of the former Hellenic colonists, the north was in the hands of heirs of the dangerous Gauls, and the center was left to Rome, with its mix of Etruscan and Italic legacy. The split of the seventh century followed similar lines: the south was in the hands of Greek-speaking Byzantines, the north was dominated by Germanic tribes, and the center fell under the de facto heir of the Roman emperors, the popes providing cultural and religious continuity to the whole of Western Europe.

Even more important, the Lombards moved the political and economic center of Italy northward. Already in the late Roman Empire, Milan had come to be a very important city for its strategic position at center of the fertile Po valley and at the crossroads between France and Germany. But with Lombards, de facto cut off from the Byzantine-controlled south, Milan became even more important and the surrounding area still bears their name, Lombardy.[3]

The Lombards entered Italy in the late sixth century and over the course of the next decades pushed the Byzantines back from most of the northern part of the peninsula while also defended their newly acquired territories from Slavic tribes encroaching from the east. They pushed southward up to Benevento but didn’t manage to move any further. The south remained for a few more centuries safely in the hands of the Byzantines, who kept their lines of communication with southern Italy and control over those territories open thanks to their powerful navy.

But the Lombard invasion started a new dynamic in Italy. When they arrived, the Lombards were pagan or Arian (another Christian heresy), but the king soon converted to Catholicism and became the political protector of the pope, thus replacing the Byzantine emperor in the role and pulling Rome politically farther away from Constantinople. This dynamic increased the tensions in the peninsula between the Lombards in the north and center and the Byzantines in the south and by the sea.

Possibly the two contemporary political dynamics moved in the same direction. The Lombards were looking for political and religious support in Italy to provide legitimacy for their hold of the newly acquired lands. The pope could see that the protection of the emperor was unreliable and thus he had to look for other solutions. On many delicate theological issues the emperor would side with the eastern doctrines (also more suitable for his attempt to secure his political position), in which religious and political power were to be kept in line and in unity with the pope. The pope represented views from the western world, where religious unity had to be maintained even in a context of political disunity.

In this context, the unity of two different natures of Christ (human and godly) sounded closer to a reality in which Christians were both and at the same time united in the faith and separated in different competing kingdoms at war with one another. On the other hand, the Christian empire relied more on the unity of faith and politics, and thus the stress on one nature of Christ (more godly than human) worked better in an empire increasingly under siege by plagues and rebellion internally, and by the Persian threat and soon by the Arab, Islamic threat externally. It would still take centuries for the break to come to full fruition and this occurred with the further decline of the Byzantine Empire in the east and the rise of the powerful Germanic empires in the west holding sway over Rome.

But before that—though after the rise of the Arab power which swept through North Africa and conquered Spain pushing into France—the Lombards donated Sutri to the pope in 728. The donation, in reality a pact of mutual assistance between the Lombard king and the pope, was the first extension of papal territory beyond the confines of the Duchy of Rome and was the historical foundation of the Papal States. The donation came shortly after all the Lombards in Italy officially became Catholic (the conversion of the Lombard King Cunipert took place in 700, and thus all his people followed him in the new faith) and the Lombard king laid claim to all of Italy, calling on the church for moral aid to push the Byzantines out of the peninsula. At the same time, the pope started having a degree of political independence thanks to his own territory. Papal forces battled the encroaching Lombards and held them off the Papal estates, which continued to grow in Italy. That is, the pope maintained a balancing act between the Byzantine emperor, his own estates, and the Lombard tribes.

As the Lombards buttressed their rule over the peninsula, they also sowed the seeds of its future fragmentation. The Lombard king divided the land into duchies given to his best men. These dukes de facto ran their land in their own capricious ways largely independent from a central administration. The later Frankish and German rulers, carving northern and central Italy into a system of one city against another, carried on this form of management, typical of the feudal times. Contrary to this, southern Italy, which retained political unity under the Byzantines and the following rulers, kept more of a sense of cultural unity.

6.3 The beginning of the rebirth of Rome and Italy

More than anything, the rise of Islam was the element that definitively broke down the unity of the Mediterranean, and rapidly, in a couple of centuries, inverted the balance of power between the two halves of the former Roman Empire. The Muslims pressed both the Eastern and the former Western Empire. The former withstood the pressure better, and the latter gave in more easily, letting the Muslims conquer Spain and getting deep into France before being stopped by the German Franks—who recently and conveniently converted to Christianity as a form of ideological cement against the invaders—in Poitier.

However, the pressure from the Muslims reinforced the position of Rome as the religious, cultural, and somehow deep strategic center of these post-Roman kingdoms that felt threatened by the powerful new challenge from the south, and eventually this gave rise to a resistance under the growing, regained leadership of Italy and the pope, who was almost reborn as a religious emperor, a Roman pontifex Maximus reincarnated.

The Eastern Empire resisted the Muslims for centuries, fighting and de facto defending the eastern border of Christian Europe. Its fierce resistance against the Muslims corresponded with the rise in power and influence of Italy to a degree unprecedented since the height of the Roman Empire. When eventually it gave in, in 1453, it opened the gates to the decline of Italy as political, religious, and economic center of the West. The discovery of America was in 1492, something that eventually ended the centrality of the Mediterranean; in 1517 Martin Luther started the Protestant reforms that eventually broke Western religious unity.

However, before getting ahead of ourselves, we have to underscore that for seven centuries the double influences of the threat of the Muslims and the rivalry and semi-alliance with the Eastern Empire helped the rebirth of Italy as a political and economic center of a reshaped Western world that reached the northern regions of Europe, previously untouched by the Roman soldiers but converted to the Roman faith by the new missionaries. In other words, Italy’s growing importance in those centuries was because the peninsula—fragmented, economically and militarily weak, but substantially under the leadership of the powerful central, religious figure of the pope—was able to capitalize on a divided and struggling world centered on the Mediterranean. When the division was reduced and simplified, Italy’s importance declined. In the meantime, the knack of the popes was to be able to reinvent Italy no longer as a military powerhouse, as it was during Roman Imperial times, but as a religious and cultural machine, adept at steamrolling economic and military forces in its path. And yet, as in all decent novels, this was possibly set in motion by the rise of its main antagonist, Islam, so we should start there.

6.4 The rise of Islam in Arabia

The rise of Islam was an unpredictable event of history. At the time when the Byzantines were battling Barbarians hordes in the west and Persian encroachment in the east, the real unsettling event was the rise of an obscure religion from an even more obscure part of the world, so backward that no one, neither the Byzantines nor the Persians, saw it fit to conquer—the cost of the enterprise would long outstrip the possible advantages. It was Islam, arising from the desertous Arabian peninsula

Arabia was largely arid and volcanic, and agriculture was difficult except near oases or springs. The landscape was dotted with small towns with little or no overall political significance. Two of the most prominent were Mecca and Medina. Medina was a large flourishing agricultural settlement, while Mecca was an important exchange center for many local tribes[4]. Communal life, supporting tribe members against the harsh environment, was essential for survival in the desert conditions. Tribal groupings were encouraged by the need to act as a strong unit that one could leave only at the cost of endangering the rest of the tribe. This unity was based on the bond of kinship by blood, something that seems close to the later religious concept of ummah, the Islamic religious notion that no one can leave the faith after joining it. Leaving it is tantamount to betrayal, punishable by death.

Indigenous Arabs were either nomadic or sedentary, the former constantly travelling from one place to another seeking water and pasture for their flocks, while the latter settled and focused on trade and some agriculture. Nomadic survival was also dependent on raiding caravans or oases. The nomads did not view this as a crime, like many ancient societies, such as the Greeks and the Phoenicians. The Greek God Hermes was the protector of trade, exchanges—and theft.

At the time of Muhammad, in the late sixth century, Arabia was politically divided between two tribal confederations: the Banu Qais, loosely loyal to Byzantium and originally powerful in northern and western Arabia; and the Banu Kalb, originally come from Yemen and loosely allied with Sassanid Persia. Many Bedouin tribes juggled these two main players. These rivalries were suppressed by the rise of Islam, which brought unity but continued to influence events in the Middle East and North Africa in post-Islamic times.

Pre-Islamic Arabia had gods or goddesses as protectors of individual tribes, somewhat similar to the Jewish God, protector of the tribe of Israel. The spirit of these gods was associated with sacred trees, stones, springs, and wells—all kinds of miracle in the flat, sandy, arid landscape of the Arabian desert. These places were the sites of pilgrimage and places for exchange. The Kaaba shrine in Mecca used to house 360 idol statues of tribal patron deities, representing thus the unity and the centrality of the place for all the tribes of Arabia. Moreover, there were other religious communities, including Christians, Jews, and Hanifs (native pre-Islamic Arabs who “professed a rigid monotheism” whose historicity is sometimes disputed[5]) According to Muslim tradition, Muhammad from Mecca (c. 570–June 8, 632) himself was a Hanif and one of the descendants of Ishmael, son of Abraham.

From this context rose Muhammad and his new religion, partly inspired by Jewish teachings and Christian influence. Based on his research[6] on early Islamic manuscripts, including the analysis of the repeated use of monotheistic Judeo-Christian imagery found in the Quran, John E. Wansbrough believes that the rise of Islam was a mutation of an originally Judeo-Christian sect trying to spread in Arab lands. With time, the Judeo-Christian scriptures were adapted to an Arab perspective and mutated into what became the Quran, which was developed over centuries with contributions from various Arab tribal sources. He suggests that a great deal of the traditional history of Islam appeared to be fabricated by later generations seeking to build and justify a unique religious identity. The same thing could be said of possibly every religion, where historical factors play in shaping the idea of the religion itself. Within this context, the character of Muhammad could be seen as a manufactured myth created to provide Arab tribes with their own Arab version of the Judeo-Christian prophets.

There is some evidence that Islam actually developed over a few decades and that even Meccah might have been become the center of Islam at a later stage, originally Muhammad might have been raised around the Roman town of Petra, and at the beginning it might have been just one semi-Christian sect almost like the Mormons on the 19th century.

Now could that be that Islam moved farther from Christianity and moved its religious “headquarter” to Meccah also for some imperial reasons? There is idea that the move was to make Islam closer to its Bedouin roots, as Bedouin were the core of the army and the faith.[7]

Islam attacked Christian Byzantium and Zoroastrian Persia, both depleted after a century of indecisive wars. Byzantium might have been the first target, Muslims were geographically and religiously closer to Byzantium, yet Christian Byzantium resisted, while Zoroastrian Persia collapsed and was taken over. Zoroastrian Persia, its imperial system became the backbone of the new Islamic state so to distance themselves from Christians (who fought Zoroastrians for centuries) and ingratiate somehow themselves to the Zoroastrians, Islam moved its headquarters to Meccah, farther from Christianity and Byzantium, more neutral, and thus closer to Persia.

Similar allegations could be also leveled at Christianity, which in the beginning could look just like another splinter of the rich connection between traditional Jewry and Hellenistic culture. Yet what is important for its future spread was that Islam at first must have appeared to many common people of the time as a new spin-off of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Added to this was the fact that Christianity was losing steam and believers because of the many complex theological controversies that were unfathomable for the common people and because of the persecution of heresies, often so labeled more for political reasons than true religious realities. To many, Islam appeared both familiar (semi-Christian) and simple, without the complex hierarchy and theology Christianity had developed. Therefore it was on both counts very appealing. Moreover, the plague and the continuous and inconclusive war between Byzantium and the Persians had left both empires weaker and created an objective political vacuum that was to be filled by Islam.

The seminal year for all of this was 623, when the Jewish community of Mecca refused the leadership of Muhammad and he fled to Medina. It is the hegira, the first year of the Islamic calendar, when Muhammad’s followers stopped praying towards Jerusalem and bowed instead towards the Kaaba in Mecca. In the following ten years of frantic religious political and military activities, Muhammad managed to unite the Arabs in the new faith. He started with Medina, the moved back to Mecca and confronted a confederation of allied tribes with forces much more numerous than those of the Muslims, and defeated them in two battles of Hunayn and of Mutah. Many Bedouins submitted to Muhammad to safeguard against his attacks and to benefit from the spoils of war. In 632 Muhammad had for the first time ever united Arabia. After him Muslims were soon divided on the true legacy of Muhammad, but for a time these splits did not hamper the outward reach of Islam, which soon fought the Byzantines and later the Persians with momentous consequences for the world.

6.5 Islam fights weakened Constantinople and Persia

The rise of Christianity one peaceful resistance against the oppression and persecutions of cruel Roman rule. It drained the Roman Empire from within, while its rule was proving more and more ineffective domestically and against enemy forces, as we saw. The empire at last fell on the Christians’ watch. Islam started with a war of conquest and expansion. These were possibly historically motivated.

It is possible that early Christianity was akin to Jewish sects, advocating armed insurrection against Roman rule. One of the Apostles, Judas, was an Iscariot, part of a group affiliated with the Zealots who in the first century AD tried and failed to rebel against Rome. Their final crackdown brought the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem by Emperor Titus and the forcible expulsion of the Jews from their holy land in Palestine. Therefore, Jewish Christians soon learned that armed struggle was useless and counterproductive.

The opposite lesson was drawn by Muhammad. He tried to work peacefully from within the religious and political community in Mecca, but those people tried to kill him and he subdued them and gained a political foothold in Arabia only through bitter armed struggle. His successors then spread his new belief beyond Arabia through a war of conquest. Wars were successful and thus appeared blessed by God—God must have desired the victory of Islam.

Certainly, this link between God and military victory was part of the Jewish tradition, where people worried about their own sins when defeated in battle. Moreover, Christians won the favor of the emperor when Constantine put the Christian symbol on his shields at the battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312. Following this, shortly before Muhammad, emperor Justinian (who died in 565) as we just saw systematically used religion and intervened in theology for political and military ends.

But for the early Muslims, the holy war was almost an instrument to spread their faith, and certainly all their early victories seemed to prove to the many common people that God was on their side.

At Muhammad’s death, Abu Bakr emerged as the first his successor and was named the first caliph, political and religious leader, ruling with a unity that had escaped the leaders of Christianity, who negotiated their religious power with the pope. Abu Bakr immediately moved to strike against the Byzantine Empire. Constantinople was by then exhausted after about a century of continuous wars.

Yet the source of the latest failing came from about 30 years earlier. In 602 the Roman army campaigning in the Balkans mutinied under the leadership of Phocas, who succeeded in seizing the throne and then killed Maurice and his family. Persian emperor Khosrau II used the murder of his Byzantine benefactor (Maurice had helped to place Khosrau on the Persian throne) as a pretext for war.[8] In 603 Khosrau defeated and killed the Roman general Germanus in Mesopotamia and laid siege to Dara, which fell after a nine-month siege. Over the following years the Persians gradually overtook the fortress cities of Mesopotamia, setting siege on them one after another. At the same time they won a string of victories in Armenia and systematically subdued the Roman garrisons in the Caucasus. Byzantine emperor Heraclius deposed Phocas in 610 after sailing to Constantinople from Carthage, when the Persians completed their conquest of Mesopotamia and the Caucasus, and in 611 they overran Syria and entered Anatolia.

The year after, in 612, the Byzantines re-conquered Anatolia and launched a major counteroffensive in Syria in 613 but failed. Over the following decade the Persians were able to conquer Palestine and Egypt and to devastate Anatolia. Meanwhile, the Avars and Slavs overran the Balkans, bringing the Roman Empire to the brink of destruction.[9]

In these years, Heraclius strove to rebuild his army, slashing nonmilitary expenditures, devaluing the currency and melting down church gold and silver to raise the necessary funds to continue the war. In 622, the year before the hegira, Heraclius left Constantinople, assembled his forces in Asia Minor and started a campaign that took on the character of a holy war against non-Christian Persians[10], almost a template for later Muslim battles. He won in the Caucasus and went on to push the Persians in Armenia, but the Sassanid reorganized and led the Avars and Slavs in the west, who set siege on Constantinople in 626. But they didn’t penetrate the city, while in the east the Persians were beaten. Meanwhile, as the Persians reached the Byzantine west, the Romans reached to the Persian north, calling on the Turks to attack the Caucasus held by the Sassanid. In 627 Heraclius defeated the Persians in Mesopotamia and almost conquered their capital. The Persians sought peace, and the Romans restored their power over the eastern side of the Mediterranean.

The defeat plunged Persia into years of dynastic in-fights and civil war. The Sassanids were further weakened by economic decline, heavy taxation from Khosrau II’s campaigns, religious unrest, and the increasing power of the provincial landholders. The Roman Empire was also severely affected, with its financial reserves exhausted by the war and the Balkans now largely in the hands of the Slavs. Additionally, Anatolia was devastated by repeated Persian invasions; the empire’s held on its recently regained territories in the Caucasus, Syria, Mesopotamia, and Palestine; and Egypt was loosened by many years of Persian occupation.

It was the time when Abu Bakr attacked Persia. The Sassanid Empire rapidly succumbed and was completely destroyed, and the Byzantines didn’t fare much better: the eastern and southern Roman provinces of Syria, Armenia, Egypt, and North Africa were lost, reducing the empire to a territorial rump consisting of Anatolia and a scattering of islands and footholds in the Balkans and Italy. These remaining lands were thoroughly impoverished by frequent attacks, marking the transition from classical urban civilization to a more rural, medieval form of society. However, unlike Persia, the Roman Empire (in the form of the Byzantine Empire) ultimately survived the Arab assault, holding on to its residual territories and decisively repulsing two Arab sieges of its capital in 674–678 and 717–718. The Roman Empire also lost its territories in Crete and southern Italy to the Arabs in later conflicts, though these too were ultimately recovered. These were the bases from which the Arabs went into Spain and continental Europe starting in 711.

There were also longstanding structural causes for the fall of those empires before the Arab attacks.[11]

“One was a drastic reduction in taxes that had become ruinously onerous. The other was truly paradoxical: by imposing discriminatory rules on all non-Muslims, the Muslim Arabs ended the arbitrary religious persecutions that had recently oppressed a majority of the inhabitants of Syria and Egypt.

“Muslim taxes could be low because the cost of Muslim rule was very low at first. The conquerors had neither a vast imperial overhead of bureaucrats and courtiers in the austerity of Mecca and Medina, nor were they trying to rapidly rebuild wrecked imperial armies as both the Byzantines and Sassanids were doing in those years. The taxes imposed by the Muslim authorities were both harshly discriminatory because only non-Muslims had to pay most of them, and blessedly lower than the relatively well-documented Byzantine taxes, and known Sassanid taxes.

“While nobody has ever been able to prove that the Roman Empire ‘fell’ because of excessive taxation—many have tried—it was and remained until the mid-seventh century a top-down system whereby the total amount of imperial expenditure for the coming year was determined first, the revenue needed was then calculated province by province, and that total was in turn allocated within each province among its registered taxpayers, mostly in the land tax according to periodic assessments of the agricultural yield of each tract (jugatio) and the available manpower (capitatio).”

6.6 Christians and Zoroastrians in Persia and their legacy for the Islamic Empires

In the early third century AD, at the time of the third-century crisis of the Roman Empire, an old Roman rival, the Parthian Empire, succumbed and was replaced by the new Sassanid Empire, controlling what was Persia at the time. Between 230 and 260, the aggressive new empire advanced to modern Iraq and Syria, and even went as far as trying to conquer Anatolia[12], putting the Romans on the defensive and depriving them of many eastern territories. At first the Sassanid were tolerant of Christians and even supportive of Manichaeism, a Christian sect that drew inspiration from Zoroastrians and divided the world into an eternal fight between God, good, and the Devil, evil.

However, after 260, the power of the magi, the Zoroastrian priests, grew stronger, and “in 286 AD the magus Kartir succeeded in making Zoroastrianism the state religion. Consequently the space of tolerance for other religions became very limited[13].” At the same time, possibly inspired by the Sassanids, the Romans were looking for a state religion, and after various failed attempts, as we saw, in the early fourth century Constantine made Christianity a state religion. The choice of state religions in the two empires created a new local atmosphere. Both Christianity, in all its different stripes, and Zoroastrianism, in its different colors, were common in the empires, but the political choices of each state religion made life difficult for Christians but easy for Zoroastrians under the Persians, and vice versa.

According to Segatti, “in the Persian Empire the position of Christians became sometimes particularly difficult just because the cult of Zoroaster, state’s religion, was committed to a well organized clerical system, unlike the rather confused landscape of the Roman polytheism.

“The figure of the executed Christians during the persecution of Shapur II (309-420 AD), who gave start to the intolerance, was presumably very high. Figures of the victims amount to many thousands.” Constantine then “sent a letter to Shapur II in order to mitigate his cruelty and even to convince the Persian emperor (shah’s shah, king of kings) that Christianity could exert a positive influence when accepted and even supported. This kind of sponsorship of Christians by Constantine most probably caused even more difficulties for the Persian Christians for it prompted further political arguments against them.”

In many ways, the religious and political confrontation between the two empires assumed the tone of a religious war similar to that of the later confrontations between Christians and Muslims.

“During the fourth, the fifth, and the sixth centuries severe persecutions were launched now and then. Christians lived under strict control inside a Zoroastrian environment, in particular during the rule of the already quoted Shapur II (339-379), during the last years of the emperor Yazdegerd I (339-421), therefore called ‘The Harsh,’ and under the rule of Yazdegerd II (438-457), who chased the Assyrian Christians back to the Roman Empire and pursued a rigorous Zoroastrianism. Also Chosroe I (531-579), the most famous emperor of the dynasty, imprisoned the patriarch Mar Abba, tortured and killed him primarily because he was a convert from the Zoroastrian faith. Conversion from Zoroastrianism was followed by the death penalty. Sometimes the confrontation between the two rival empires reached its utmost and assumed the tones of religious extremism: see the words reportedly uttered by Chosroe II to the Byzantine Christian ambassadors looking for truce and peace. He proclaimed that he never would have granted it until the Roman emperor had previously recanted his faith in the crucified God and professed to be believer in the Sun’s divinity (ca. 621 AD). In the same way, when the Roman emperor Heraclius counter-attacked successfully, all the major sacred places of the Zoroastrian tradition connected with its founder, Zarathustra, were destroyed.”

Zoroastrians were therefore rapidly persecuted and slowly disappeared in the Roman dominions, and so were Christians under the Sassanid, as loyalty of Christians and Zoroastrians seemed aligned with the empires that granted them protection.

This had important consequences for the future of both religions. Persia had been the bridge for the spread of Christianity and Zoroastrianism in India and China. Yet after the Sassanid persecution, Persian Christians became more and more cut off from Mediterranean Christians and even then they were persecuted. After the Muslim conquest, these ties became even weaker, under the double pressure of the new Islamic conquerors and local Zoroastrian social majority. Besides, theological differences pushed even further apart Persian and Mediterranean Christians. This also led to weakening Persian Christian support of Christian communities in China and India, which grew even more isolated.

The same turned out to be true after the Muslim takeover for Zoroastrians, who unlike Christians were not a religion of the Bible, akin to Islam, and suffered more under the caliphs. Without the Persian backing, Zoroastrians, who in the seventh century were rife in China and India, soon dwindled and disappeared like the Christians in China or were reduced to insignificant minorities, like the Christians in India.

But there is an even more significant possibility arising from this history. As we saw, the Muslims failed to topple the Roman Empire but managed to cut down the Sassanid. Yet the new Islamic rulers inherited the administration, many trappings, and possibly even part of the culture of the old Persian Empire, including the tradition of centuries of religious wars against Christian Romans. This might well be one of the roots of the religious conflicts between Islam and Christianity in the following centuries.

6.7 The Arabs stopped at Tours by the Franks in 732

The Arabs seemed invincible for almost a century. The Byzantine Empire had resisted but at the cost of great losses and immense poverty—and possibly only because the Muslims were divided into different dynasties. The formerly mighty Byzantine Empire was reduced to a pale shadow of its former self. The ancient Persian Empire, with its old Zoroastrian religion and culture that had witstood centuries of small and large attrition by the Romans, crumbled in a moment under the new military tsunami of the Arabs. For the first time since Alexander, more than 1,000 years earlier, an empire was controlling the huge swathes of territory from West Africa to the Indies and China. But Alexander’s empire fell and shattered in a few years into several competing kingdoms, while the Arabs, thanks also to their religion, were there to stay.

The Arabs rearranged the lines of communication and trade from East Asia to the Mediterranean into a seamless economy where different cultures blended together as people of different cultures and religions coexisted. After a thousand years of exchanges mediated by the Persians, the Mediterranean could trade directly, thus cheaply and more efficiently, with the economic powerhouses of India and China. Tolerance, power, and long and efficient communication lines brought new culture and wealth to the Islamic world, which looked unbeatable.

Europe then seemed destined to also fall. It was not simply a political demise, but a religious and cultural default. If the Muslims were not defeated, Christianity was destined to disappear, as defeat in war was proof of the power of one’s religion and culture. With Muslims advancing from the south, west, and east, the pope and his power over Italy was in great jeopardy. Christianity seemed to be about to end—only a sliver of Barbarian tribes stood between the new Arab hordes and Rome.

Yet in 732 in Tours, well into the Gallic heartland, with roads to Germany and the Italian Alps, the Arab advance was for the first time significantly stopped by the Franks and their leader Charles Martel, who only recently had converted to Christianity. Where in the past historians[14] have stressed the importance of this feat as proof of a new Christian resurgence against the Islamic power, modern historians[15] have rather played down the significance of the event. Certainly, from 711, when the Islamic forces started the invasion of Spain, it took over 700 years for the Christians to wrest it back, and they “re-conquered” it only in 1492, the year when Columbus set to sail to discover America. The battle of Tours was not a dramatic turning point—Arab historians hardly mentioned it. But it came after the Arabs were dramatically defeated in 718 during their second siege of Constantinople, when Christianity seemed overall able to resist and push back the Arabs.

In fact the Byzantine victory was more important at the time. The Arab fleet, which accompanied the land army, was neutralized soon after its arrival by the Byzantine navy with the use of Greek firepower. This allowed Constantinople to be resupplied by sea, while the Arab army was crippled by famine and disease during the unusually hard winter that followed. In the spring of 718, two Arab fleets sent as reinforcements were destroyed by the Byzantines after their Christian crews defected, and an additional army sent overland through Asia Minor was ambushed and defeated. Coupled with attacks to their rear by the Bulgarians, allied to Byzantine forces, the Arabs were forced to lift the siege on August 15, 718. On its return journey, the Arab fleet was almost destroyed by natural disasters and Byzantine attacks.

The rescue of Constantinople ensured the continued survival of Byzantium, while the caliphate’s strategic outlook was altered: although regular attacks on Byzantine territories continued, the goal of outright conquest was abandoned. This victory didn’t start an offensive movement against the Arabs. It begun a long period of cautious coexistence between Byzantines and Arabs in which neither side tried very hard to prevail over the other. The Eastern Roman Empire seemed more concerned with surviving than pushing back the enemy.

Something very different occurred in the west, where the Frank victory started a renewal process in Europe. In fact the defeats had crushing repercussions for the Arabs. Khalid Yahya Blankinship argued that the military defeat at Tours was one of the failures that contributed to the decline of the Umayyad Caliphate: “Stretching from Morocco to China, the Umayyad Caliphate based its expansion and success on the doctrine of jihad—armed struggle to claim the whole earth for God’s rule, a struggle that had brought much material success for a century but suddenly ground to a halt followed by the collapse of the ruling Umayyad Dynasty in 750 AD. The end of the Jihad State demonstrates for the first time that the cause of this collapse came not just from internal conflict, as has been claimed, but from a number of external and concurrent factors that exceeded the caliphate’s capacity to respond. These external factors began with crushing military defeats at Byzantium, Toulouse, and Tours, which led to the Great Berber Revolt of 740 in Iberia and Northern Africa.”[16]

Yet while the Byzantines didn’t seem ready to use this opportunity in the east, something different was taking place in the west. The power and prestige of Charles Martel and his Franks became greatly enhanced after the battle. His Germanic brethren, the Visigoths of Spain and the Lombards of Italy, could not stand up to the Arabs, the Franks could beat the new invaders. This victory and the power of Charles Martel was the basis for the rise of the Franks and his descendants, who began to shape a new rule in Europe and new role for the pope and the church.

6.8 Charles the Great and his new alliance with the pope

The Franks’ victory over the Islamic Arabs, and the halt of their advance in Europe seemed due to the renewed strength of their Christian religion as much or possibly more than to military valor. The Arabs had presented their conquest as a holy war, and thus their defeat was also holy, proving Christianity stronger, which emphasized the role of the pope. This was coupled with the weakening of the Byzantine Emperor, on the defensive despite their crushing victory, while the Franks had been greatly emboldened.

The failure of the 718 siege had weakened the Umayyad state. Bernard Lewis commented, “Its failure brought a grave moment for Umayyad power. The financial strain of equipping and maintaining the expedition aggravated fiscal and financial oppression, which had already aroused such dangerous opposition. The destruction of Syria’s fleet and army at the sea walls of Constantinople deprived the regime of the chief material basis of its power”[17]. The blow to the caliphate’s might was severe, and although the land army did not suffer losses to the same degree as the fleet, Umar contemplated pulling out of the recent conquests of Hispania and Transoxiana, as well as a complete evacuation of Cilicia and other Byzantine territories that the Arabs had seized in previous years. His advisors dissuaded him from such drastic actions, but still most Arab garrisons were withdrawn from the Byzantine frontier districts they occupied. In Cilicia, only Mopsuestia remained in Arab hands as a defensive bulwark to protect Antioch.

The Byzantines also recovered some territory in western Armenia for a time. In 719, the Byzantine fleet raided the Syrian coast and burned down the port of Laodicea, and in 720 or 721, the Byzantines attacked and sacked Tinnis in Egypt. Leo also restored control over Sicily, where news of the Arab siege of Constantinople and expectations of the city’s fall prompted the local governor to declare an emperor of his own, Basil Onomagoulos. It was during this time, however, that effective Byzantine control over Sardinia and Corsica ceased. The Byzantines also failed to exploit their success in launching attacks of their own against the Arabs. Although weaker, the Arabs were still a power to be reckoned with: they de facto pushed back Byzantines, who on the north and west front had to rely on a new ally, the Bulgars, for the defense. The Byzantine Empire was thus encircled by friends and enemies with limited room for expansive action.

In fact in 720, after a two years lull, Arab raids against Byzantium resumed, although now they were no longer directed at conquest, but rather seeking booty and reinforcing a line of security. The Arab attacks would intensify again over the next two decades, until the major Byzantine victory at the Battle of Akroinon in 740. After military defeats elsewhere and internal instability, which culminated in the Abbasid Revolution, the age of Arab expansion came to an end. Shortly after, the Abbasid Arab push to the east was also stopped by Tang forces in the Battle of Talas in 751. The Tang push west was then stopped, so that from east and west the Arab military expansion was contained but not defeated.

Yet, in continental Europe, out of the Arab reach, the new power of the Franks was free to grow. In these years came Charles the Great (April 2, 742–January 28, 814), considered the father of Europe as a political and cultural entity distinct from North Africa and the east Mediterranean.

He was the son of Pepin the Short, and during his time, royal succession was undergoing changes. Formerly the Franks, as with all German tribes, elected their kings. Pepin and his brother Carloman received their titles by inheritance with the blessings of the pope, who validated this new process[18]. Ultimately the assembly of the Frank people had to ratify the choice. But clearly there was a crucial confluence of interests between the church and the kings. The latter wanted to pass the throne to their sons, rather than going through the laborious process of elections; the former wanted to play a political role, which could grant it political protection now that the Roman emperor was clearly not going to return to the west. This new succession was still uncertain and when Pepin wanted to appoint his son as heir and his brother Carloman refused. The pope sided with Pepin, giving legitimacy to new line of political succession. The military victory against Carloman sealed this procedure, so that at the time of his death on September 24, 768, Pepin passed the reign jointly to his sons “with divine assent,” a clear sign of the new religious legitimization process.

The Franks “in general assembly” gave them both the rank of king (reges) but “partitioned the whole body of the kingdom equally.” Yet the royal appointments occurred separately. For Charles, then 26 and with war experience with his father, it was on October 9 in Noyon; his brother Carloman, only 17, was appointed on an unspecified date in Soissons. Still modern historians tend to believe that the kingdom was not split in two, but a single joint inheritance and a joint kingship tenanted by two equal kings. The question of whether these jurisdictions were joint shares reverting to the other brother if one brother died or were inherited property passed on to the descendants of the brother who died was never definitely settled by the Frankish people. It came up repeatedly over the succeeding decades until the grandsons of Charlemagne created distinct sovereign kingdoms.[19]

In 769, the year after his coronation, Charles had to face the threat of Aquitania, a state pressed around the Pyrenees and squeezed by the Arabs pushing north. Charles met them and defeated them, bringing Aquitania and Gascony under the Frank reign. He then married a Lombard princess, thus laying claim also on north and central Italy. He soon repudiated his wife to marry a Swabian heiress, something that soured ties with the Lombards. It also proved that in the balance of power between German tribes, the Swabians, controlling large swathes of modern Germany, were more important that Lombards, with their shaky power in parts of Italy. The friction exploded in 772 when Charles supported the pope against the Lombards in a land controversy and subsequently entered Italy chasing the Lombards out of their main strongholds in Pavia and Ravenna.

The defeated Lombard prince fled to Constantinople and sought help from the emperor against both the Franks and the pope. Yet emperor Constantine V was occupied by a war with the Bulgarians. In 774 Charles dominated most of Italy and had himself crowned king of Lombardy and master Italy with an iron crown, allegedly made out of a nail from Jesus’ cross and thus heavily charged with Christian meanings. Only one Lombard duke in Benevento held out—he refused to submit and proclaimed independence. Charlemagne left Italy with a garrison in Pavia and a few Frankish counts in place who had to fight a backlash of Lombard resistance, supported by the Eastern Empire.

In 787 Charlemagne decided to crush resistance in Italy and directed his attention toward the Duchy of Benevento, where Arechis was reigning independently. He besieged Salerno, and Arechis submitted to vassalage. It was a personal pledge, true to the custom of the feudal times in western Europe so with his death in 792, Benevento again proclaimed independence under his son Grimoald. He was attacked by Charles’ armies, but they failed to subdue Grimoald, who never surrendered to Frankish suzerainty.

De facto, as of 792, Italy was still divided in three parts, a division that was to last for over a thousand years. The south was in the hands of a condominium of local leaders with the support of Byzantium (this reinforced the old Greek legacy); the center was politically in the hands of the pope, with an army growing in significance and able to play a central role in Italian and international developments; the north was with the Franks, who ruled through a networks of counts and dukes. The rulers of the south and the north changed many times, but the papal power remained the same, while shrinking or expanding its territorial reach at different times. Moreover, the power structure also stayed the same. The south kept a larger sense of political unity, whereas in the north the feuding counts were soon to be replaced by feuding cities, each stressing their local identity over a larger sense of an Italian character.

The histories of the different parts of Italy, especially the south and north, were soon to move in different directions. But a momentous change was still to occur.

At the end of the eighth century, Charlemagne was engaged on many fronts—against the Slavs in the southeast and against other riotous German tribes, unwilling to be under the Frankish yoke—but most importantly he managed to push back the Arabs. He didn’t re-conquer Spain, but acquired a solid foothold south of the Pyrenees; wrested the Balearic islands, Corsica, and Sardinia; and proved for the first time in the west that Christendom could not only resist but also overcome Islam. The holy fight was not only in the hands of Constantinople’s emperor.

From that spread the legend of Orlando and the battle of the Pass of Roncesvalles, where the heroic Paladin stopped the Islamic forces. The fight was not more than a skirmish, but Orlando was to become a mythical figure in the identity of France, Spain, and northern and southern Italy (in Sicily there are still puppet shows about Orlando). Even eight centuries later, the Orlando legend was so alive as to inspire the Italian literary masterpiece Orlando Furioso (1516), Ludovico Ariosto’s (September 8, 1474–July 6, 1533) romantic epic that was also the inspiration for Cervantes’ Don Quixote and possibly with Shakespeare foundation of modern Western literature.

With the fight came collaboration. Charlemagne had contact with the caliph of Baghdad, who gave him an Asian elephant[20]. This also shows the first signs of rift that was to grow massively between the west and east, which were conducting different and diverging policies with the Arabs.

6.9 The rise of the Holy Roman Empire

A crucial step in the separation of the two sides of Christianity came from the once again converging interests of Charles and the pope. In 799, Roman people tried to pull out Pope Leo III’s eyes and tear out his tongue, accusing him of adultery and perjury. Leo fled to Charlemagne, asking him to intervene in Rome and restore him. Charlemagne then traveled to Rome in November 800 and held a council on December 1. On December 23, Leo swore an oath of innocence. Then de facto in return for his support, at mass on Christmas Day, December 25, Charlemagne knelt at the altar of the Saint Peter’s Basilica to pray and the pope crowned him “Emperor of the Romans.” In so doing, the pope was effectively challenging or at least limiting the legitimacy of then-empress Irene of Constantinople. Many had taken the title of king of Italy, but none before Charles had assumed the title of emperor. He was de facto assuming he was the heir of the Western empire, which had developed out of the old Roman shell that had remained in Constantinople. Charlemagne’s coronation as emperor, though intended to represent the continuation of the unbroken line of emperors from Augustus to Constantine VI, had the effect of setting up two separate—and often opposing—empires and two separate claims to imperial authority. For centuries to come, the emperors of both the west and east would make competing claims of sovereignty over the whole. And even at the time, the pope and Charlemagne were fully aware of its significance[21]. The world centered around Rome was then divided into three parts, the northwest was in the hands of a Roman Empire that soon came to be called “holy”. The south and southeast were in the hands Islam, though divided in competing caliphates, roughly all the same from Rome’s perspective. Then there was the Eastern Empire, with its new Christianized Slav enemies/allies centered in Constantinople.

In all this, Rome was no longer the political center of the West—this had moved to the northern homeland of the Germanic tribes. Rome, especially with the imperial coronation, had assumed a new role of the center of religion and political legitimization, a role that it maintained unchallenged in the West until Luther’s reformation seven centuries later.

At the beginning of the ninth century, for both the pope and Charlemagne, the Roman Empire remained a significant power in European politics. It continued to hold a substantial portion of Italy, with borders not very far south of the city of Rome itself. However, culturally the empire had grown apart from Italy. It was a thoroughly Hellenic state, while Latin was spoken in central and northern Italy and had become the lingua franca of Europe. Indeed, Charlemagne was usurping the prerogatives of the Roman Emperor in Constantinople simply by sitting in judgment over the pope (when he decided to support his claim to the papacy over the opinion of the people of Rome), a prerogative formerly limited to the emperor of Constantinople. The formal excuse for the coronation was that at the time a woman was empress. According to old Germanic lore, a woman was unable to govern, and the empress on the throne was additional proof of the degradation into which the Roman Empire had fallen.

For decades a new rift had been growing between the churches of west and east. In the east, since 727, the doctrine of iconoclasm and the destruction of Christian images was popular, possibly also due to the influence of Islam, which claimed it was a sin to depict God, as God was not an image within human intelligence capabilities. Moreover, since 750, the secular power of the Byzantine Empire in central Italy had been nullified.

There was more for the pope. Until the 800 coronation, the popes had to almost beg for their power from the secular authority, and it had been the Roman emperor who had granted Christianity a special status, but life and death of Christianity always depended on the good wishes of the emperor. By bestowing the imperial crown upon Charlemagne, the pope arrogated to himself “the right to appoint… the Emperor of the Romans,… establishing the imperial crown as his own personal gift but simultaneously granting himself implicit superiority over the Emperor whom he had created.” And “because the Byzantines had proved so unsatisfactory from every point of view—political, military, and doctrinal—he would select a westerner: the one man who by his wisdom and statesmanship and the vastness of his dominions … stood out head and shoulders above his contemporaries.” With Charlemagne’s coronation, therefore, “the Roman Empire remained, so far as either of them [Charlemagne and Leo] were concerned, one and indivisible, with Charles as its Emperor,” though there can have been “little doubt that the coronation, with all that it implied, would be furiously contested in Constantinople.”[22]

Charlemagne used the coronation to claim he was the re-newer of the Roman Empire. In his official charters, Charles preferred the style Karolus serenissimus Augustus a Deo coronatus magnus pacificus imperator Romanum gubernans imperium (“Charles, most serene Augustus crowned by God, the great, peaceful emperor ruling the Roman Empire”) to the more direct Imperator Romanorum (“Emperor of the Romans”).

The title from then on continued to be used, adding prestige to the west, which slowly came to grow a new sense of identity around the idea of a holy Roman Empire, where three elements coalesced after centuries of ideological and political battle: the legacy of the Roman Empire, the Christianity of the Papacy, and the new mainly Germanic element of the former Barbarians and invaders. The title of emperor remained in the Frankish Carolingian family, but divisions of territory and in-fighting over supremacy of the Frankish state weakened its power and ability to lead. The papacy itself never abandoned the right to bestow power. With the weakening of Carolingians, the pope crowned whichever Italian magnate could best protect him from his local enemies. This devolution led to the dormancy of the title from 924 to 962, when it was revived when Otto I was crowned emperor in 962, fashioning himself as the successor of Charlemagne. The empire would remain in continuous existence for nearly a millennium, as the Holy Roman Empire.[23]

6.10 Political and ideological divisions of Christianity and the birth of Europe

The Second Council of Nicaea in 787 sowed more seeds of religious division between eastern and western Christianity. Charles did not recognize it, since no Frankish emissaries had been invited, even though Charlemagne ruled more than three provinces of the old Roman Empire. Moreover in 800 he put himself as equal in rank to the Byzantine emperor, and possibly the proceedings of the 787 council also prompted Charles to claim the imperial title.

The council saw a deep division in the church. Invitation could not be delivered to many patriarchs, now under Islamic rule, like those in Antioch or Alexandria, once important lighthouses of Christianity, at least as important as Rome or Constantinople.[24] As in other councils before, the Byzantine emperor played a crucial role in it, de facto approving or disapproving the proceedings. There was a clear new distinction between the adoration offered to God and that accorded to images, which may well have been as a result of the iconoclastic reform, which met the popular desire to see a saintly image, something very important for common people in a time without movies, TV, or internet. But it also responded to more mystical drives to mark a difference between images of God and God himself, something that had been driving Christians towards Muslims, who had abolished the use of any image of God. The council[25] issued 22 canons drawn up in Constantinople, which also served as ecclesiastical reform. Careful maintenance of the ordinances of the earlier councils, knowledge of the scriptures on the part of the clergy, and care for Christian conduct were required, and the desire for a renewal of ecclesiastical life was awakened. The council also decreed that every altar should contain a relic, which remains the case in modern Catholic and Orthodox regulations (Canon VII), and made a number of decrees on clerical discipline, especially for monks when mixing with women.

In this the pope realized he also had an interest in finding a way out from the power of the eastern emperor. The council reintroduced the veneration of icons, and while the pope supported its religious results, he also desired to increase the influence of the papacy, which was possible under Charlemagne, whose power was still wobbling in fragmented Europe. The western people wanted to solve the constitutional issues then most troubling to European jurists in an era when Rome was not in the hands of an emperor. Thus, Charlemagne’s assumption of the imperial title was not an usurpation in the eyes of the Franks or Italians. It was, however, seen as such in Byzantium, where it was protested by Emperor Nicephorus I (802–811), although he had no power to act, something that de facto bolstered the new Frankish Empire. Large parts of Italy remained subject to the Byzantines, namely Venice, Calabria, Apulia, Naples, and Sicily.

Charlemagne’s empire rapidly broke up, as we mentioned, at his death and it took a century and half for the empire to come back under Otto. In German tribes allegiances were personal and between equals, thus without the great personality, without state structures the following rule fragmented. Yet the idea of the empire and its legacy was so strong that it managed to survive 150 years of disorder and devastation. Moreover, even if broken, the Frankish territory managed to hold in check the Muslims who barely crossed the Pyrenees and held only pockets of land in southern Italy.

Militarily Charlemagne spread to Europe what was considered a cavalry revolution: the use of the stirrups. Stirrups appeared to be in widespread use across China by AD 477, [26] and by the late sixth or early seventh century, primarily due to invaders from Central Asia such as the Avars, they began spreading across Asia to Europe. The first European literary reference to the stirrup may be in the Byzantine Strategikon, the classic of military strategy traditionally ascribed to Emperor Maurice, and if so written sometime between 575 and 628 AD—but this is widely disputed and the work is placed in the eighth or ninth century by others[27].

However, whereas the stirrups from China and Central Asia were used to steady bowmen on horses, the Frankish tradition used them to make “shock cavalry” lance charges possible, and this was introduced in the Frankish kingdom in the late eighth century[28].

The military successes of Charlemagne were largely due on novel siege technologies and excellent logistics, both of which he gleaned from Byzantine advisers through the support of the church.

In the realm of finance, Charlemagne abolished the gold standard for lack of gold, a consequence of losing Venice and southern Italy to Byzantium and thus of being cut off from the most profitable trade routes with the East. Charles then cleared the many currencies of the time by introducing a silver pound standard and instituted principles for accounting by means of the Capitulare de Villis of 802, which laid down strict rules for the way in which incomes and expenses were to be recorded. He also exercised a direct control of prices and levies on certain goods and commodities. Roughly at this time came the first tacit approval for the Jews to monopolize money lending, since the church forbid Christians to charge interests. It was considered a sin since it profited from time, which belongs to God according to early Christian tradition. Jews, however, being non-Christian could charge interest. In reality, this created a contradiction that was to last for centuries.

The economy needed credit and thus loans, yet loans could not be granted. Therefore in reality nobody loaned money and the economy could not move. The first easy way out of this was to allow Jews, non-Christian and thus not bound by the Christian sense of time, with money lending. Jews had the other advantage of cutting across the Christian and Muslim worlds with a network of rabbis and religious courts that made them dependable and accountable. Yet just this made the Jews too rich and powerful, and thus drew envy and persecution.

Charlemagne also promoted a program of conservation and copying old Latin texts. Most of the surviving Latin literature dates back to copies from his time. Moreover, like his Byzantine fellows he meddled in religious life. He focused on the strengthening of the church’s power structure, improving the skill and moral quality of the clergy, standardizing liturgical practices, improving basic tenets of the faith and morals, and rooting out paganism. He would discipline clerics, control ecclesiastical property, and define orthodox doctrine. Most important was the major theological issue settled under him.[29]

In 809–810, Charlemagne called a church council in Aachen, which confirmed the unanimous belief in the west that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son (ex Patre Filioque) and sanctioned inclusion in the Nicene Creed of the phrase Filioque (and the Son). For this, Charlemagne sought the approval of Pope Leo III. The pope, while affirming the doctrine and approving its use in teaching, opposed its inclusion in the text of the creed adopted by the 381 First Council of Constantinople. That creed spoke of the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father, without adding phrases such as “and the Son,” “through the Son,” or “alone”. Stressing his opposition, the pope had the original text inscribed in Greek and Latin on two heavy shields, which were displayed in Saint Peter’s Basilica.

Whether one includes that phrase, and exactly how the phrase is translated and understood, can have important implications for the understanding of the central Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity. The phrase may imply a serious underestimation of the Father’s role in the trinity; or others may argue that denial of what it expresses implies a serious underestimation of the role of the Son in the trinity. Over time, the phrase became a symbol of conflict between east and west. Overall, it stood as an implication of the role of humans and God in the world, stressing thus the role of the church or that of the emperor.

However the problems between the pope and the Frankish emperor were never come to fruition because at Charles’ death he divided the empire, which did not hold together, plunging Europe into over a century of fights and disunity.

[1] See for this section Cardini, Franco and Marina Montesano. Storia medievale. Firenze, 2006.

[2] See for this the classic by Marc Bloch Feudal Society, reprinted in 2014 by Routledge.

[3] For this section I relied on Bertelli, Carlo and Gian Pietro Broglio. Il futuro dei Longobardi: L’Italia e la costruzione dell’Europa di Carlo Magno. Milan: Skira, 2000. And Delogu, Paolo. Longobardi e Bizantini in Storia d’Italia. Torino: Utet, 1980.

[4] For this section see W. Montgomery Watt’s Muhammad at Medina (1956) and his Muhammad at Mecca (1953).

[5] See Kochler, Hans. Concept of Monotheism in Islam & Christianity. 1982. 29

[6] See his Quranic Studies: Sources and Methods of Scriptural Interpretation (Oxford, 1977) and The Sectarian Milieu: Content and Composition Of Islamic Salvation History (Oxford, 1978).

[7] See on this Dan Gibson, The Mecca Question, 2011

[8] See also Bivar, H. D. H. “The Political History of Iran under the Arsacids”. Eds. Bayne Fisher, William and Ilya Gershevitch, et al. The Cambridge History of Iran. 1993.

[9] Howard-Johnston, James. East Rome, Sasanian Persia And the End of Antiquity: Historiographical And Historical Studies. Ashgate Publishing, 2006.

[10] See Grabar, André. L’Iconoclasme Byzantin: le Dossier Archéologique. Flammarion, 1984.

[11] Luttwak, E.N. The Strategy of the Byzantine Empire. 213-214. Kennedy, High. The Armies of the Caliphs. New York: Routledge, 2001. p. 19 and following. Kaegi, 1992. 119.

[12] See Frye, R.N. “The Political History of Iran under the Sassanians,” in The Cambridge History of Iran. Eds. Fisher, William Bayne, Ilya Gershevitch, et al. Cambridge University Press, 1993.

[13] Ermis Segatti, Asian Christians in the first Millennium, in Archivio Teologico Torinese (a cura della Facoltà Teologica dell’Italia Settentrionale, Sezione Parallela di Torino), anno 16, 2010, n. 1, pp. 91-127.

[14] See the account in Mastnak, Tomaž. Crusading Peace: Christendom, the Muslim World, and Western Political Order. University of California Press, 2002. 88-89.

[15] See Barbero, Alessandro. Charlemagne: Father of a Continent. University of California Press, 2004.

[16] The End of the Jihad State: The Reign of Hisham ibn ‘Abd al-Malik and the Collapse of the Umayyads. State University of New York Press, 1994.

[17] Lewis, Bernard. The Arabs in History (Sixth Edition). Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, 2002. 77.

[18] Einhard. Medieval Sourcebook: The Life of Charlemagne. Ed. Paul Halsall. Trans. Samuel Epes Turner. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1999.

[19] See also Russell, Charles Edward. Charlemagne: First of the Moderns. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1930.

[20] Heck, Gene W. When Worlds Collide: Exploring the Ideological and Political Foundations of the Clash of Civilizations. Rowman & Littlefield, 2007. 172

[21] Tierney, Brian. The Crisis of the Church and State 1050–1300. University of Toronto Press, 1964. 17. Meek, Harry. “Charlemagne’s Imperial Coronation: The Enigma of Sources and Use to Historians”. www.academia.edu/HMeek

[22] Norwich, Julius J. Byzantium: The Apogee. 1992. 3

[23] Cantor, Norman F. Civilization of the Middle Ages. 1993. 194–195, 212 -215.

[24] Treadgold, Warren T. A History of the Byzantine State and Society. Stanford University Press, 1997. 388.

[25] Raab, Clement. The Twenty Ecumenical Councils of the Catholic Church. 1937.

[26] Hobson, John M. The Eastern Origins of Western Civilisation. Cambridge University Press, 2004. 103

[27] See Maurice’s Strategikon. Ed. George T. Dennis. XVI. For contrary views, see White, Lynn Jr. Medieval Technology and Social Change. Oxford University Press, 1964. 144.

[28] Hooper, Nicholas and Matthew Bennett. The Cambridge Illustrated Atlas of Warfare: The Middle Ages. Cambridge University Press, 1996. 12–13

[29] Harnack, Adolf. History of Dogma: The Controversy Regarding the Filioque and Pictures. Ccel.org. June 1, 2005.